How hard is it to get into medical school?
And once you’re there, how hard is medical school? How hard is it to take all the necessary steps to become a doctor?
We all know medical school is no joke. Getting in is difficult, to say the least. Not even half of all applicants are admitted to a medical school program. And everyone does the same stuff to get in. You can fill your extracurriculars with science-related and medicine-related activities. You can go on internships and study abroad trips. You can do everything in your power to set yourself apart as a competitive medical school applicant. But none of that guarantees you a spot in medical school.
So, exactly how hard is it to get into medical school? And once you’re in, how hard is medical school? What is it like being there? What about getting through labs and lectures? How do you study for important tests? In today’s article, we’re answering all those questions and more.
It’s hard to get into medical school, and it’s even harder to stay in. But with the right medical school admissions consulting and the right long-term strategy, you can successfully get in, attend and graduate from medical school.
Part 1: Getting In
So, how hard is it to get into medical school? In some ways, it’s not so much about how difficult it is, but about how time-consuming and exhausting it is. There are tons of steps you’ll need to take before you ever set foot on campus.
It feels like there are exams at every turn you take, both on your journey to medical school and your path to graduation. How hard is it to get into medical school? You have at least three exams in your way. Let’s take a look at the tests you’ll need to take.
The SAT is a standardized test administered by the College Board in the United States. It covers the basics of writing, critical reading and mathematics. The score you receive is used to judge your college readiness. This exam is taken in high school before you apply to college. In fact, the SAT isn’t just for pre-med students. Most universities require the SAT to be considered for admission.
The ACT is very similar to the SAT. Instead of being administered by the College Board, it comes from a nonprofit organization called ACT. (Yes, they have the same name.) The ACT tests writing, critical reading, mathematics and scientific reasoning. Many universities will accept SAT or ACT scores, or both. The most competitive students out there opt to take both.
The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is required for pre-med students who are applying to medical school. The test is ideally taken during your undergraduate studies before you begin med school applications. The test is extremely difficult to score well on. This can be very stressful since many medical schools have a minimum MCAT score for acceptance. Most students begin studying for the exam long before they take it, utilizing study aids and medical school admissions consulting along the way. The test can be retaken to improve scores.
USMLE for MD Students
USMLE Step 1 is taken after your first two years of medical school. You must pass it before beginning your core clinical rotations. Step 1 tests you on everything you’ve learned during your first two years of medical training. It’s designed to assess your skills and ensure your capability of working in real-world settings with actual patients.
USMLE Step 2 CK is taken after you’ve finished your rotations. You must pass it before beginning residency. Again, the timing is in place to ensure that you are ready to advance to the next level of medicine.
COMLEX Exams for DO Students
If you’re studying osteopathic medicine, you’ll take the COMLEX exams instead of the USMLE exams. There are four exams instead of two, and they are taken at different times.
COMLEX Level 1 is taken after your first two years of medical school. You must pass it before beginning your clinical rotations. Level 2 CE and PE are taken together after your first year of rotations to assess your progress. Finally, Level 3 is taken near the end of your residency before you become a licensed doctor of osteopathic medicine.
So, as you can see, there’s a test you must take at every stage to advance to the next level. If you fail to pass an exam, you’ll have to re-take it and pass it before you can continue your education. There’s a lot of pressure in medical school, and scoring high on exams is a constant expectation.
How hard is it to get into medical school once you’ve taken the required exams? You’ve now got to get through the applications.
You’ll start your medical school journey by submitting your “primary” application. If you’re applying to allopathic medical schools, then you’ll submit your application to the American Medical College Application Service. If you’re applying to osteopathic medical schools, you’ll turn in your primary through the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service. We’ve covered both primary application services extensively.
Thankfully, primary applications are extensive enough to cover the majority of what medical schools need to know. Every medical school to which you apply will have access to your primary application. They’ll send you their secondary application once they’ve reviewed your primary. Some medical schools automatically send out secondaries; other schools selectively send them out.
Your secondary application is primarily comprised of secondary essays. In addition to your AMCAS / AACOMAS personal statement, you’ll write essay responses that the admissions committees at each school write for prospective students.
Financial Aid Applications
Medical school isn’t cheap. So, unless your parents are millionaires, you’ll fill out lots of financial aid forms. You’ll want to apply for federal aid, scholarships and grants first. Then, if necessary, apply for loans. Those applications can feel even longer than your primary because there’s not a single, central application for student loans. You’ll need to fill out much of the same information for multiple applications.
The applications won’t end when you start medical school. You’ll still want to apply for scholarships and grants if you need them. You’ll need to update your federal financial aid application every year. If you want to go on a study abroad trip, you’ll need to apply for that. Plus, you still have residency, fellowship and job applications to fill out when you reach those stages. The applications never truly end.
Part 2: Staying In
We’ve talked about how hard it is to get into medical school, but how hard is medical school itself? Between the lack of sleep, information overload and abundance of tests, it’s hard.
Now, don’t feel like we’re discouraging you from going to medical school! We need more good doctors to enter the medical profession and fill the gaps in our healthcare system. So, let’s switch gears and discuss how to stay in medical school once you get there.
Learn How to Effectively Study on Very Little Sleep
You’ll most likely learn to survive on little to no sleep during your undergrad years. You’ll have caffeine in one hand and a textbook in the other. But the difference between undergraduate studies and medical school is the amount of knowledge that will be thrown at you through that sheer exhaustion. You’ll feel like you’re drinking from a fire hydrant. That’s why it’s important to learn how to study effectively with very little sleep. What do we mean by that?
There are different types of learners and varying study techniques that match different learning styles. You could use flashcards to prepare for an exam, but listening to your study notes while you’re jogging might be more effective for you. There’s so much information you’ll take in that you’ll need to quickly learn the most effective study tools for your mind. Otherwise, you could waste countless hours using ineffective study methods that don’t prepare you for your exams.
Take Lots of Notes
Take lots of notes, but take them strategically. For example, don’t write down everything you read in your textbooks. Instead, use notes to highlight important information that you’ll need to remember. If your professor tells you to remember something, write it down. Your notes will become valuable tools if you’re picky about what you write down. They’ll be a good resource to help you prepare for exams.
Manage Your Time
Medical school isn’t just about learning the information you’ll need to know to practice medicine. It’s also about managing your time. For example, you’ll be enrolled in multiple classes at once. You’ll have tests and deadlines all over the place. So, you’ll need to organize what you need to learn based on when you’ll be tested on it.
Managing your time extends beyond your studies. There are countless ways you can find more time in your day if you’re struggling to stay on top of everything. Spend less time on social media. Cut down on your getting ready time. Find shortcuts on campus. Invest in a coffee maker so you don’t have to stand in line at Starbucks. That one will save you money, too!
Sleep Whenever You Can
We’re not joking around when we talk about drinking lots of caffeine. You’ll pull a lot of all-nighters while you’re in medical school. For this reason, we recommend sleeping whenever you can. Taking a 20-minute nap can help you feel refreshed before going to class. Get as much sleep as you can at night, even if it’s not as much as you want. Your brain needs rest to be able to learn new information. You might even reach the point where you’ll nap anywhere. Some students will nap on a bench between lectures just to get some rest.
So, there you have it. How hard is it to get into medical school? Very hard. How hard is medical school once you’re there? Just as hard. It will test and try you every step of the way. But it is 100% worth it to become a doctor if that’s the impact you want to make on the world. Knowing how hard it is in advance will prepare you to stay the course.
Feeling overwhelmed? Not sure what steps to take for where you are in your journey? Reach out to us. Our medical school admissions consulting team is here to help you. They’re experts, and many of them have been through this process, so they know what you’re going through.
Deciding where you want to attend medical school? We cover how to get into different medical schools all the time here on our blog. Check out the schools we’ve covered, and check back often. We regularly update our blog.
- Touro University of California
- CHSU College of Osteopathic Medicine
- UC Davis School of Medicine
- Harvard Medical School
- UC Riverside School of Medicine
- USC Keck School of Medicine
- UT Southwestern Medical School
- Long School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio
- University of the Incarnate Word School of Osteopathic Medicine
- UT Austin’s Dell Medical School
- UTMB School of Medicine
- McGovern Medical School at UT Health
- Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
- McGovern Medical School at UT Health
- The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine
- UNT Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine
- University of Houston College of Medicine
- Texas A&M College of Medicine
- Johns Hopkins Medical School
- Baylor College of Medicine
- George Washington University School of Medicine
- Vanderbilt University School of Medicine
- St. George’s University School of Medicine
- Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (in Pennsylvania)
- Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University
- Wake Forest University School of Medicine
- Western University of Health Sciences (in California)
- Drexel University College of Medicine
- Stritch School of Medicine at Loyola University Chicago
- Georgetown University School of Medicine
- Yale School of Medicine
- Perelman School of Medicine
- UCLA Medical School
- NYU Medical School
- Washington University School of Medicine
- Brown Medical School